When we talk about the dos and don’ts of Christianity, are we revealing Christ and leading people to God, or turning them away?
The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 8:13: “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat lest I make my brother stumble.” What did he mean by this?
Our words or actions can lead to a seed of doubt being planted instead of allowing faith in God to be nurtured.
In this verse, the food Paul was referring to was food offered to idols. He explains how as Christians, we know that the kind of food we eat – whether offered to idols or not – does not make us any worse or better in the eyes of God (1 Corinthians 8:8).
However, Paul further explains that if the people around us don’t have this same knowledge and think it is wrong to eat food offered to idols, seeing us eat such food could stumble them.
Simply put, stumbling someone means our words or actions lead to a seed of doubt being planted instead of allowing faith in God to be nurtured.
We may think that we have the right to do anything, but as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:23, not all things are beneficial or edifying.
Our walk with Christ is deeply personal, but it’s also very public. Through our life, we hope that others will not see us – our deeds and religiosity – but see and encounter Christ through us.
LOVE OTHERS WHERE THEY ARE
Everyone has their own faith journey in which we encounter God in a personal and unique way. We can therefore help others encounter God where they are in life. To be shepherds who go to meet their sheep and not the other way round.
Paul made himself a servant to all (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). He met others on a personal level – where they were.
“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews… To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-22)
Our task isn’t to inculcate a doctrine or moral code in the lives of others. It’s to lead others to Jesus – who will then take it from there. He’s the one who’s going to bring the transformation of hearts (1 Corinthians 3:6-9).
Paul also cautioned how “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). The knowledge of God satisfies us and makes us more confident in our faith. This in itself isn’t wrong, but Paul says to keep this between ourselves and God (Romans 14:22).
“Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall. So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.” (Romans 14:20-23)
For example, I tithe knowing God blesses and provides abundantly. But I wouldn’t impose tithing onto someone who is attending service for the first time. Neither would I intentionally tithe a huge sum just to show how great a tither I am.
Instead of acting out of our knowledge, Paul reminds us to reach out to others in love. Those who have yet to know Jesus or are new to the faith may not have the same “knowledge” as we do, and that’s okay.
WHEN SHOULD HARD TRUTHS BE SAID?
However, avoiding being a stumbling block does not mean we always turn a blind eye towards confronting others of their sin. The Gospel is made up of hard truths.
When Paul saw Athens filled with idols, his spirit was provoked and he reasoned with the devout persons and Jews in the city (Acts 17:16-17).
He then preached to them about God as the Creator and our Father, and then of Jesus’ resurrection. In reaction to his preaching, some mocked Paul and presumably never went on to believe. But some joined him and believed (Acts 17:34). As Paul’s spirit was provoked, I believe the Holy Spirit within us will also stir us to move in the right direction at the right time.
The right timing is God’s timing. What is in our control is how we communicate these truths. We can communicate them in a love that builds up and meets others where they are. A love that looks beyond ourselves and is rooted in a desire for others to know Christ. And of course, a love for Christ that overflows from His great love for us.
- What does reflecting Christ look like to you?
- How can you meet the needs and concerns of those around you?
- What are some ways you can speak the truth in love?